The revitalization of a parish in ultra-lib land

Do you remember when Fr. Illo at a parish in San Francisco decided to stop the service at the altar by females (YAY!) and the world came down on his head.

In the Catholic Herald, the UK’s best Catholic weekly, there is a story on what’s going on at Star of the Sea parish.  Shall we look with my patented treatment of emphases and comments?

Countercultural San Francisco parish attracts growing congregation

On the solemnity of the Annunciation this past spring, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone dedicated the Star of the Sea Church’s renovated St Joseph Adoration Chapel, calling it “a pivotal moment in the history of the parish.”

We want to base the renewal of our parish around the Holy Eucharist,” said Fr Joseph Illo. “Our mission statement is to evangelize God’s people beginning with the gift of the Holy Eucharist. That means putting a lot of energy into our music, our preaching, our Sunday Mass.” [As I have said a zillion times, no initiative we undertake in the Church will bear fruit unless it is rooted in sacred liturgical worship, the summit of which is celebration of the Eucharist and the Eucharist Itself.]

Three years after Fr Illo was appointed parish administrator in August 2014, bringing his powerful commitment to traditional Catholic practices to the famously progressive city, Mass attendance and the number of parishioners registered have increased about 10 percent each year. [Are you surprised?  I’m not.]

“For the first time in my life, I feel I belong to a parish, I mean really belong,” said Eva Muntean, Walk for Life West Coast co-chair, who organizes street evangelization twice a month at a farmers’ market not far from the church.

One of Fr Illo’s first actions was to open the Romanesque-style church from 6:30 am to 5:30 pm daily, improve the lighting and turn on the heat. “Now people can stop in, light a candle,” Father Illo told Catholic San Francisco, the archdiocese’s newspaper.  [Whaddya know.  Open the church and people come!]

When he arrived, the parish founded in 1887 in the city’s Richmond District was struggling. Despite its location facing a busy boulevard, its doors were closed most of the day except for Mass times.

The parish has been one of the first to meet its Archdiocesan Annual Appeal goal each year, and the offertory has more than doubled. There is a new Knights of Columbus chapter, revitalized homeless outreach, Gabriel Project for pregnant women in need, a young adults group, and a speaker and a film series as well as Filipino and Chinese parish groups. Masses in English and Latin feature Gregorian chant and polyphony. [LATIN!]

The backbone of the parish remains “good, faithful, longtime parishioners,” Fr Illo said.

“We have served under seven pastors, all very different. And we’ve seen the parish go through many transitions of growth and decline and rebirth again,” said Lorna Feria, an accountant who is also parish director of faith formation. She and her husband, Bud, who have five children, joined the parish 26 years ago. “It’s a rebirth again.”

Confessions are available before every Mass. “That’s brought a lot of people in,” Fr Illo said. There are coffee and doughnuts, Mexican, Chinese or Filipino treats after most Sunday Masses.  [CONFESSIONS!]

“We are offering a style of worship that is more traditional and more classical, but it is also revivifying the neighbourhood,” said Fr Illo, who was appointed to start an Oratory of St Philip Neri, a project later put on hold. “We put money into professional musicians” and are building up the volunteer choir, Fr Illo said.  [Yes, this is an important investment.  We often see that when music improves in choice and quality of execution, congregations grow.  That means that collections grow.  That means that even more musicians can be brought in, etc.  I know a parish in NYC which did this and it worked.  I hear the newish pastor has cut back on the music and the congregations are shrinking.]

The priests at Star of the Sea distribute Communion at the Communion rail. In Lent, Fr Illo began an experimental period of celebrating Mass “ad orientem,” meaning the priest faces the high altar and crucifix during the parts of the Mass where the priest and people address God. While extraordinary form Latin Mass was instituted earlier, there are now two Masses on Sunday and one daily celebrated using the 1962 Roman Missal, known commonly as the Tridentine rite, in addition to English Masses.

Shortly after his appointment, Fr Illo ignited controversy when he decided to train only boys and men for altar service going forward, coming at the time Archbishop Cordileone was receiving negative publicity associated with Catholic high school teachers’ contract talks.

Serving as an altar server is a feeder for the male-only priesthood, and helpful in forming boys in leadership, much as girls-only programmes at many of our schools,” Fr Illo said in an interview. Today the negative publicity has abated, and he said as many as 10 altar servers serve at extraordinary form Latin Masses.  [Which will produce vocations.  They should also implement the famous Vocation Prayer I’ve posted about.]

Three men from Star of the Sea have applied to the archdiocesan seminary program and another entered the Dominican novitiate on August 15. One young man who had been serving Mass from the parish had just enrolled at St. Patrick’s Seminary & University the August that Fr Illo arrived.  [As I said before.]



Read the conclusion there.

Great stuff!

Fr. Z kudos to Fr. Illo and Archbp. Cordileone!


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. mburn16 says:

    One has to hold their breath clicking on a link about a “counter-cultural parish” in SF. I was thankful to be pleasantly surprised.

  2. ejcmartin says:

    Compare that to Dr Esolen’s article on my sad diocese
    We have had lots of wonderful “roundtable discussions,” but the conclusion was made well in advance.

  3. truthfinder says:

    To their credit, Crux has the same article.

  4. William says:

    Listen, you foolish and senseless people, with eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear! Hey, it ain’t rocket science.

  5. majuscule says:

    There are wonderful things going on in the archdiocese under the radar. While Star of the Sea is a magnificent church where the Latin Mass is at home, there’s a parish in South San Francisco with a more modern church (that was probably built after they started leaving out the communion rail because it doesn’t have one). This NO parish (Mater Dolorosa) also has a Latin Mass. (It was Sunday through Friday but I have heard that now there is also a Saturday Mass). The Contemplatives of St. Joseph have their monastery on the grounds and offer the Latin Masses, sharing the church with the parish priests.

    They have a professional and very energetic choir director and beautiful Gregorian chant on Sundays. But I was surprised that when I went to a midweek Mass expecting it to be a low Mass and instead there was a single cantor chanting the propers and ordinary. Communion is given in the front pew-row but on Sunday they used a houseling cloth.

    Really, the Mass is so reverent and the chant so beautiful that the open beams and modern architecture of the church disappear. It can be done in a modernish church.

    These churches are not in competition. The Latin Mass community in the Bay Area is like family! And the Latin Mass is coexisting with the NO in some places (and hopefully influencing the reverence of the latter.)

    If you visit the COSJ website linked above you might consider a donation. They are contemplatives who also serve the archdiocese with parish missions and retreats.

  6. Our Lady of Good Help says:

    This is beautiful…………Traditional Catholic practices matter. Catholics are drawn to the Sacred Liturgical practices. My life and faith have become richer in the last 8 years that I have had the great privilege to attend TLM and be part of a St John Cantius Church. Communion before Mass is an amazing gift. Much prayer for Fr. Illo, Archbp. Cordileone and all our Holy Priests trying to bring back the Extraordinary form Latin mass.

  7. Ocampa says:

    “meaning the priest faces the high altar and crucifix during the parts of the Mass where the priest and people address God. ”

    What a difference a little wording makes.

    The author could have gone with the old “with his back to the people” tripe. Praise the Lord that he went with language that reflects the mind of the Church rather than the misanthropic “spirit of Vatican II.”

  8. mlmc says:

    Funny, if you google Fr Illo you will find fishwrap articles from 2014 attacking him & creating controversy- but now the fruits of his labors are obvious

  9. I remember reading about this parish in the Fishwrap, and the perpetually unhappy people who comment there were wailing and gnashing their teeth when the pastor disallowed females as servers.

    Now that we see the boost in interest, I wonder why that doesn’t generate a followup in the N”C”R. I wonder, I wonder…

  10. misternaser says:

    I was in San Francisco two Sundays ago and attended the 11:30 EF Mass at Star of the Sea. I’d learned of the parish here and figured I’d be guaranteed to avoid any possible Bay Area funny business there. It was lovely. All different ages and ethnicities represented; Fr. Illo’s homily focused on Fatima’s First Saturday devotion, and the polyphony was wonderful. Proof that priests faithful to Catholic Tradition bear good fruit for the Lord.

  11. Grant M says:

    If you’re going to San Fransisco, Libs, be sure to tear out your hair. You’re not gonna meet any female servers there…

    There IS now a whole generation with a new explanation, and it’s also a very old explanation.

  12. Grant M says:

    Oops! Misspelled the name of our Holy Father’s patron. Sorry.

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